Friday, March 19, 2010

You Can't Say You Can't Play! Does setting this limit then make us the bully?

As parents and adults, we typically struggle a little with how to provide children the space to have their power, (and thus exclude) and also provide an opportunity for them to develop common ground.

I think it is so important, of primary importance, to allow children to have as much power over themselves as possible. Especially power over their own bodies. I think somehow that through providing children with the opportunity to have power over themselves and their environments, that they can develop empathy naturally.

And so I have, for the past few years, gone along with the thought that children should be allowed to exclude. As it was explained to me, it is a necessary factor in developing personal power.

In group play, we want to help the powerless. And the question is whether we make children include others, or allow then to exclude.

It is a delicate situation. There is a fine line between using our implicit power (by being adults, by having larger bodies) to "encourage" the excluders to include, and thereby becoming the bullies in the process.

And although I have been fairly comfortable in helping children see ways they can include each other, but I was not comfortable to making them, however gently, include another child in play if they do not want to. I felt that I was somehow circumventing a developmental stage they needed to travel through, unfettered by my persuasions or values.

But I have been rethinking that approach since starting to read "You Can't Say You Can't Play" is helping change my mind and find a new solution.
That way with excluded/excluder never resonated fully with me, and therefore I could never really explain the reasoning fully to anyone. That was my inkling to myself that I needed a new approach.

The approach I learned to take seems to imply that exclusion is a developmental need that children must engage in and experience fully before they can move on to inclusion. Kinda like the way sharing works, where we allow a child to have have an object until they feel secure and then they will spontaneously share. While it is true in the case of possessions, it does not work for exclusion.

It goes back, like everything, to what the unmet need is. There were 2 different needs in the dynamic at my house yesterday. Not sure I got the needs right, but there was my son, wanting to be a cool friend (be accepted) by his new friend Gerry, and Gerry, wanting to feel important? Wanting to feel powerful?

In examining the needs, I see that there are more valid ways to meet these needs. The behavior of exclusion as a tactic to meet these needs is not something I want my son to carry on with into his teen years. That would be bullying. So when will it end, if I let it go, unchecked?

I thought about how I had handled name calling in the last 2 years -- same thing. I originally thought I should let it go, and not give it energy, and it would resolve itself. It is only words, after all. But name calling can be just another way of excluding. And what happened instead was that a gang mentality appeared. It was like Lord of The Flies.

Yes, children are pure. And their intentions are never evil: and yet, when their behavior is allowed to go on, unexamined, it can feed off itself. We have an important function in the lives of our children: not as authoritarians, but as authoritative coaches.

We have to think again of that mountain of egocentricity, and society/community below. Our collective goal is to help them acquire the skills to interact productively and happily with society. To become a member.

Just yesterday my son had a playdate with 2 friends. One of them (a 6 yr old who also happens to be the newest addition to the group) has been trying the exclude the 3rd friend (a 4 year old and my son's best friend) for the last 2 playdates. This time I realized before hand what might be in store for Ari. My son had created 3 "kits" - one form each friend. He showed me them, proudly, and explained that the dumbest kit was for Ari.

I discussed in brief. First I said: I noticed last time you three played together, Gerry tried to exclude Ari and call him names. If that is your plan again this time, then it is better if we call him right now and ask him not to come.

"No! I want Ari to come."

"OK. Then I am also wondering about this kit. How would you feel if you went over to your friend's house, and he gave you the "dumbest" kit.?"

"OK Linda. I'll put together the kit and you can decide whether it's dumb." He put together the mini figure and held it up for me to see. "What do you think? Is it dumb?"

"I don't think it's dumb. I think it's kind of cool." I stated plainly, shrugging my shoulders. "I think it's great that you thought of making kits for each of your friends."

"Yes, and don't forget they are supposed to fill them up with their own figures from my box once they get here."

"Ok. I just want you to think about how you will play with both friends today. And if that is too hard, then don't invite one of them over. Sometimes people think they can't play with more than one friend at a time. And that's OK, too."

"Why is that, Linda?"

"I don't know. Maybe it just takes practice. But it's worth it. It can be more fun to have more friends together." As I talked with him, I remembered having a similar conversation with my own mother when I was 6, and I had been excluded. Only that time, my mother told me that 3 people cannot be friends together. She had laid it down as a law. How dismal is that?

I saw my son listening intently to me, and I saw the wheels turning in his head. I have a rule with conversations: 25 words or less. Otherwise the children turn off their ears, and float on down the road. After 25 words, my voice becomes the teacher's horn voice in Charlie Brown. "Bwaap bwap bwap bwap bwaap."
The boys arrived, and though of course I had to intervene a couple of times to help Gerry understand about name calling and using threats, Kelly happily included Ari in the play.

At one point when Gerry said to Kelly "Ari can't have cereal, right?!" Kelly seemed to have not heard the remark at all, and he said to Ari "Would you like some, Ari?"
The three boys simply needs to know what the rules of engagement were. They just needed to know what the limits were. And this is not knowledge they are born with.

This is why we are in their lives. And it is our job to be sure that when we are setting down those limits, we are not doing so out of fear, or control issues. We have to be coming from as much clarity as possible.

Some might say I usurped my son's power by not allowing him to exert his power to exclude. I disagree. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. I look at my son, and see that he is grounded, strong, confident, joyful, spontaneous, imaginative, fulfilled, and opinionated. My son is an awesome person, who is thoughtful and considerate, and has many friends. He speaks his truth clearly to anyone, adults and children alike. I am loving the person he is, and my guidance for him is helping him become a success in the world.

If he actually chose me as a spirit, then he chose me at least in part for my experience on earth, and the answers I have. If I fail to share with him my wisdom, then I am neglectful in allowing him to flounder and fail. It could be so much easier for him than it was for me -- because he has me and my husband as parents.

I know that there are also different kinds of exclusion. There are different reasons for it.

The kind of exclusion I am discussing above seems to fulfill some kind of self esteem issue. A need for power, a need to push someone else down to fill big enough in our own skin.

Today we had an impromptu staff meeting before school started about exclusion. We all discussed the approach I wrote about. Then the teachers put it into action. Ari, Gerry, and Kelly were all at playschool today, and so of course the situation was recast!

And this time, the 3 boys were at the top of the structure, and Kelly told a 4th boy: you can't come up here!

The teacher asked: how does that feel? I know when I have been excluded, I felt bad inside. Kelly agreed, and he said "But Heather, there isn't enough room up here for more people. When more people come up, it's crowded!"

(Teacher) Heather said "Oh! Well, that makes total sense. Maybe you could say that, then, to Jerry. I know that if you told me that, then I wouldn't feel bad, I would understand!"

Kelly: "Jerry, you can't come up here right now becaseu it will be too crowded, but you can be on the bottom!"

So although I know that it is different in classrooms than at home, it is still our job as teacher to mentor good citizenship. To be the best we can be, to offer guidance for their journey.

That's why we shouldn't judge them -- they are just struggling to figure it out.

And if we take the time, they really reflect on what we have to offer them.

Like Bev said once, with a child who is really having a hard time, if we can get down on their level and be there with them -- and let them know we are in it with them: "We'll get through this together" goes a long way. Kids just want to be successful.


One point I want to make clear: when I compare exclusion to sharing, I did not mean to say they are related.

What I meant by the comparison is simply that many people seem to think that exclusion is a developmental stage that children must travel through and work out on their own. Just as sharing is.

And my current professor at UCLA, Karen Fite, helped me see that the precise difference between the sharing thing and the exclusion thing is that though both are fear-based, with sharing, they will grow into the behavior of sharing once they have filled up. With exclusion, the act is often driven by "exclude them before they exclude us" or "unite before we become the outsider" which is part of our general society, and leads to competitiveness, and also lack of a community mentality, and instead a gang mentality...

So if they are indeed excluding (gang mentality) then you can talk to them about it.
However, I think you are including "not wanting to share" behavior in this -- and that is not what I was talking about. The "not wanting to share behavior" ("go away" as protection of a plan or property) can look like exclusion, but is not exclusion. It is simply not sharing. Exclusion has to do with power, and self-esteem. Sharing has to do with lack. We already know that sharing is something the child can work through more or less on their own. With one caveat -- I suggest to them less harsh language to use when expressing those needs that look like exclusion but are not what I am talking about here:

"I need some space"

"I want to play by myself with this plan (and then you can have a turn)"

I see the fine line here, but you might notice that at 4 years old some kids may start to band together against another kid. That is the exclusion I am talking about.

And then they need to be given better tools to use to overcome their fears, and successfully connect with other children. This is what many non traditional educational approaches, like waldorf, montessori, regio emilia, and constructivist schools, and trying to accomplish, just as we are.

Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA

A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Developmental I making the grade as a parent?

When I read anything about parenting and child development, I spontaneously begin evaluating myself on my own parenting of my son. As I recently read a developmental checklist for early childhood, I felt the urge to pat myself on the back many times. But then I came to the piece about peaceful conflict resolution "Has the ability to resolve conflicts peacefully" (which of course is the true point of all of my journey in parenting), and I flinched. Does my son resolve his conflicts with his peers peacefully?

I have heard that he is amazingly peaceful and tends to be the one who resolves the conflicts between and among the playing partners (when I am not around).

But when I read "resolves conflicts without aggression or hurtful language," I flinch. I do hear "Stop it, you idiot!" in the yard at playschool... and it is often my own son who is uttering those words (like little stabs into my ears). And I explain to him, or whoever else is yelling them, that this doesn't work for 2 reasons:

a) calling him an idiot doesn't tell him anything about what you are wanting him to do better next time

b) calling names is like hitting, because you are using a word as a weapon to hurt.

And still the name calling continues.

I guess I should take refuge in the fact that my son is only 5, and the prefrontal cortex, which governs impulse control, is not fully developed until the age of 27. But I still get tired saying it over and over again, for months... "please tell him what you don't want him to do. Don't call him a name. That's not OK... name calling is using words as weapons.....

It seems that every few months we circle back to this point again. And I get so frustrated at times with his incredible lack of progress in this area, that I am often not able to stop and observe what is going on for him in that moment. If I can just climb down from my judgmental throne and take up my post as Kian's champion, his unfailing supporter, then I can take a good look and see what has changed for him that made him lose the impulse control he so recently had mastery over. And it is always something that is a new challenge. This time it is a certain new boy at school who cannot control his own impulsivity and really intrudes on the space of others. He is 4 years old, and still working on impulse everyone who has not yet reached 30, in fact.

So my 5 year old big man (he doesn't allow me to call him a little boy) just needs a little slack, really. We all lose our control once in a while, even those of us waaay past the age of 27.

And just because so many parents think I am above all of this, and even perhaps a kind of "super mom;" and just because my son is incredibly adept at conflict resolution among his peers, doesn't mean that he travels through the developmental stages any quicker. I just have to remember that my job is to stand by him and be his champion, so he doesn't have to feel alone or judged for having traveling through them fully.

Lots of love,
Linda Shannon

Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA
A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wade Davis about cultural heritage and the state of our world

I just watched a video of Wade Davis speaking about world cultures, and I am speechless. It was amazing. It makes me want to travel to remote areas with my son, and soak up the rich, perfect, real, natural experience.

For example, I loved that, in the indigenous culture he speaks of, every year in the festival of manhood, the young man who ran fastest was bequeathed with the honor of being a woman "a wailaka" for the day, and was allowed to wear women's clothing. And then led the men on a grueling run up and down the 20 thousand feet of mountainous terrain.

And I really love Wade Davis' final comment on his piece, that it is hopeful, that we are agents of cultural destruction. Because as such, we can also be facilitators of cultural survival.

You have to watch this one.

Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA
A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I am learning to love my wiggly butt...and the world will be a better place!

I am still thinking about a comment made by a little boy recently, about whether a certain lady with dark skin was "some kind of brownie, or something." And I am just wondering why and how I might react to a comment like that. I guess I would react to it, if somewhere in myself I had that same belief against myself. In other words, I am sure I wouldn't react to the "brownie" comment, since I don't have strong negative beliefs about my value as it pertains to the color of my skin. Call me fat, on the other hand, and my blood pressure begins to rise, my self doubts creep in, and I jump to my own defense.

When my son sings me his favorite morning song, that sweet, innocent, laughing voice can really get my self-judgment going. I guess I should be honored that his made-up lyrics were inspired by me: "Linda has a wiggly butt! Linda had a wiggly butt!"

Of course I have biases, some more deeply etched than others. Some I have made a lot of movement on. I admit that my current biases are against fat, rich, and disabled, and are a result of a variety of my own fears. I am busy examining them so I can be freed from them. In the past I also had "less than" biases against people more degreed than me, and "greater than" biases against people from less developed cultures.

And before I lived overseas and become the foreigner, I also had a "stupid" bias against people who could not express themselves well in English. Until I became one of them. In one 16 hour flight I was instantly transformed from the upper echelons of one society, to the dregs of another.

(In the US, you are pegged in 1 or 2 minutes by your ability to communicate, and I have always been pretty able. But my mother didn't let me get away with that. She was proud of her children, but she also had her own biases. She would go right down the line introducing us: this is Gail, a teacher; Glenn, a business owner; Wayne, a business man; Judy, a marketing executive; Craig, a lawyer; and Linda. She studied English. Doesn't she speak well?)

My biases are my shackles. They blind me, and they keep me from experiencing everything that is available to me. I want to run free through this toy store called life, and I cannot as long as I have prejudices and biases.

In Japan I had my first ever experience at being less than upper middle class. I was classless in Japan. It was a kind of prejudice, kind of like a cultural "time out:" I was not treated as less, but certainly as an "other." I was not part of "the group." I was often objectified for what I was.. for the parts of my whole. My eyes, my English language, my otherness, even my thought process...

During my first year I worked in a marketing agency for a well known marketing consultant -- the man who made walkman a worldwide sensation. I found that in Japan, everything is inside out. Even statistics are comprehended differently. In a land where individuality is a borrowed word for lack of the concept in the native language, statistics were strangely compiled in an incremental way. Where I would use a line graph to show trending among groups of people, for example, in Japan they used bar graphs and analyzed each person separately. I became a wonderment after I shared that revelation with my company workers.

In Japan there was less crime because the culture was homogenous. The society was harmonious , and everyone there had common rules of engagement, and understood each other well. Which is probably why we have so much crime in the US. Because we are a social laboratory, an experiment. As confusing as the tower of Babel, we are a multi-culture mix trying to communicate across the space of No Common Ground. We really have an amazing country.

And it seems that we are coming closer to establishing a common "rules of engagement" in this country. With the spread of non violent communication, and the Four Agreement, it seems that we are coming closer to a space where we can establish common ground and common understanding. Even movies are now touting the benefits of no violent communication. Recently, in a Hollywood movie "Shutter Island," the lead character remarked about the patients at a psychiatric institute (to paraphrase): "'All these people need is someone to listen to them. They just need to be heard. And through being heard, they will hopefully arrive at a place of taking responsibility of their actions. They will do away with the blame. And thus they can live life fully, here, and in the now. In the present. In reality."

And therefore, maybe we are creating a new world order, as they say. Or at least, we might establish some peace and acceptance.

But this has to start on a very small level: with us. In the words of Dan Millman, we are mentoring all of the time. And we do so with every action. It isn't something we can fake. We can start addressing our personal paradigm shifts by first watching our words. Our words are pearls, strung together from thoughts, and they creates the reality we live within. So it is a great way to reposition our consciousness: by paying closer attention to our every word.

And to help this happen, we can start to pay attention to our own judgments. If we really examine them closely, we can often see that our judgments can be turned back to ourselves. When we judge someone else harshly, we are most likely harboring that same judgments against ourselves. So we can start the whole world shifting by giving ourselves the love we want our child to have. As desiderata says "be easy on yourself."

So I guess what that means is that I need to love my wiggly butt a little more. Tonight I decided to start singing along with my son. And while he sings, I do a little wiggly dance, and laugh with him.

Linda Shannon
Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA

A Mindful program for the 'Whole Child,' inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Bev Bos, Montessori, Waldorf and Non-Violent Communication. �